Diane Patrick is a freelance editor and
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personal essays
Woman Leaps From Job, Survives

Lost In the Veneto

The Boss From Heaven
Lost In The Veneto
by Diane Patrick
Some women I know are absolutely terrified of getting lost.

But not me.

When I get lost, I look for the silver lining: you know, a new shortcut discovered, a chance to see a part of a city
I might have bypassed, a more scenic route, a new neighborhood, anything.

But getting lost in a remote section of another country–one where I didn’t even speak the language–now, that’s
another story. Would I find a silver lining, or would that be the experience that might finally make me change my
cocky tune? That was the question I faced in the summer of 1992.

That July, one of my clients, producer of a small jazz festival in Italy, treated me to a trip to the festival. So I
spent two weeks in Castelfranco Veneto, a small, prosperous town 35 minutes north of Venice. And what a treat
it was: my first trip to Italy!

One day I got lost while returning from the town of Bassano del Grappa, a few stops away from C. V. on the
train. I had an hour's wait for the next train back, but I spent it in a teeny-tiny station nestled at the base of
green, lush mountains.

In case you didn't know, I am utterly fascinated by mountains. In the presence of mountains I can only stare,
speechless and awe-struck by their height, the forces of nature that created them, their solidity, their
treacherousness, their regal beauty, their majesty, the way they create their own weather. Although too terrified
to ever climb one, I just like to look at them, feel them, listen to them, respect them. They make me feel both
weak and strong, both insignificant and powerful.

Beyond that, my emotional connection to mountains is completely inexplicable. Perhaps I was a mountain
woman in another life, and perhaps in that life I died in a fall or other mountain accident, which would explain my
trepidation of inclines. But in this life, I simply worship mountains.

As I sat there in the station, I alternately gazed at the mountains and studied my Eurail map, marveling how from
that one tiny station I could travel to fourteen countries (I counted)! Presently, a man came along, and we
began talking. His name was Rino, and he worked for FS, the Italian railroad system. I told him that I was lost,
but glad to be near these beautiful mountains.

Rino frowned and shook his head.

"No, no,” he said, gesturing almost disdainfully toward the surrounding peaks. “These are not mountains! If you
want to see mountains, you must go here." He pointed on my map to a place called Calalzo. "You will see the
Dolomites," he said. "Tall, beautiful mountains."

Well, Rino didn't have to tell me twice! It didn't matter that I had no idea where I was going, or that I was all by
myself, in a country where I had never been and hardly spoke the language. Early the next  afternoon–at 12:51,
to be precise–I got on the Padova - Calalzo line train for the two and a half hour ride to Calalzo, solely on the
recommendation of this stranger.

And it was so magnificent...  the train went into and through some of those mountains, also known as the Italian
Alps. On the other side, just on the other side, was Austria. I didn't sit down at all during that ride: just stood up
at the open window, letting the warm breeze caress me, shooting a whole roll of film. As far as I was concerned, I
was the only one on the train, and this was my private ride.

At one station I spotted a couple of abandoned FS railroad cars in a field. Even with their broken windows,
missing headlights, rust, and peeling paint, they looked like majestic red and gold sculptures, and I wished
those cars could tell me what they had seen. Which in turn made me think of how during World War II, traveling
freely through Italy and other European countries was unspeakably dangerous, if not impossible. Tens of
thousands had shed blood so that I, Diane from the Bronx, could take this impromptu, deliciously self-indulgent
journey. That sobering thought made the trip even more meaningful, and made me even more grateful to have
the privilege of taking it.

The train snaked tantalizingly through the Dolomite mountain range, a mystical collection of spires, towers and
pinnacles rising out of the rock. We were in some of the world’s highest and most exciting terrain, and according
to my map, just on the other side of the range was Austria. Occasionally the tracks ran alongside highways and
roads, up through winding mountain passes. On slopes everywhere, there were houses or little villages nestled
in the mountains. I drank in the vistas in big gulps, smiling all the while.

We traveled northeast, stopping at the towns of Montebelluna, Cornuda, Alano Fener, Feltre, and Sedico
Bribano. Everywhere I looked, there were granite peaks: tough, hard, jagged, majestic, the light playing on
them, bestowing upon them extra personality. But as remote as the terrain was, there always seemed to be a
neat, stylish white stone building with shutters and a red roof in view. And everywhere, there was a confident
sense of style and design; everything neat and clean, artistically arranged, esthetically pleasing. Even the
platforms at the train stations were decorated with proudly hanging baskets of blooming plants.

We reached Belluno at 2:20. The train curved to the left as it departed from the station, on the serious part of
the journey now, the peaks just about at eye level, signaling that we were almost at the top of the mountain
range. Glorious! Only four more stops–an hour and ten minutes–passing through Ponte Nelle Alpi, Longarone,
and Perarolo.

When we arrived at Calalzo at 3:30, I decided against exploring the ski resort town, since there was only just
enough time to buy some postcards, sit in a café to write a couple, and then hop back on the train that departed
at 4:22. For the return trip, I sat in my seat the whole time, smiling to myself at my adventure.

I’m sure those mountains have names, and I was sorry that I didn’t know them. Because Il Dolomiti were my new
friends, breathtaking and stupendous. They had spoken to me, welcomed me, in their silent and majestic
language.

Thank you for coming to see us, they whispered.

But the pleasure was--and still is--all mine.
Copyright © Diane Patrick 2008-2013.
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